If you are interested in a career in law, you may be looking into how to become a paralegal. Although becoming an attorney is the most obvious option in the law field, the opportunities and rewards of a paralegal job make it an attractive path, especially if you do not have the time or money to invest in law school. There are several educational paths you can take to becoming a paralegal. Which option you choose will likely depend on what education you’ve already completed and on how soon you hope to begin working.
Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Certificate
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to law, but decide you have an interest in paralegal work, you may be able to enroll in a certificate program. These generally take several months to complete. If you don’t have a college degree, however, you will need to obtain either an associate’s or bachelor’s prior to becoming a paralegal. The associate’s degree takes about two years and can usually be completed at a university or community college. You can also find online degrees, or perhaps do the work in a combination of online and residential classes. A bachelor’s degree takes longer to complete (the traditional time is four years) but may be your best bet if you’re hoping to land a paralegal position with a large law firm or if you want to go into certain types of paralegal work such as corporate law.
Choosing An Area In Which to Specialize
Regardless of what educational options you pursue, it would be a good idea to explore the different types of areas in which you can specialize as a paralegal. A paralegal works in a law office, doing many of the things that a lawyer can do, and there are many different types of law. Your course studies will have some general areas in common, but there may be specific types of things you need to study in order to work as a paralegal in a specific branch of law. Some of the paralegal specializations include litigation, real estate, family law, immigration law, estate planning and debt and bankruptcy issues. If you hope to move into work for a certain branch of law, it can be good to specialize your studies. Once you have your diploma, you may also wish to pursue certification as a paralegal, which is optional but can be very helpful.
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Another thing you can do to prepare yourself for work as a paralegal is to gain some actual experience, according to Paralegal 411. You will often hear it recommended that paralegal students find internships, do pro bono work or work as volunteers in legal related capacities in order to gain necessary and helpful experience. Another possibility could be to work a job as a legal secretary. Finally, you may want to go ahead and join a regional, local or national association of paralegals that can provide information on education and continuing education. Organizations such as this are made up of people with the experience and knowledge needed to help you learn how to become a paralegal.